Saudi forum reveals smart technologies used to enhance pilgrims’ Hajj experience

Interior Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif meets with Hajj security officers in Makkah on Monday. (SPA)
Updated 06 August 2019

Saudi forum reveals smart technologies used to enhance pilgrims’ Hajj experience

  • One technology being operated by the Ministry of Health during this season’s Hajj was a robot that could remotely provide medical consultations and checks
  • Plans are in the pipeline to recycle pilgrims’ waste, especially plastics, into useful materials

MAKKAH: Smart technologies being used and developed in the Kingdom to improve services for Hajj pilgrims were revealed at a forum held in the holy city of Makkah.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif inaugurated the “Advanced Technology Utilization on Hajj – Smart Hajj” gathering on Sunday at Umm Al-Qura University’s King Abdul Aziz Historical Hall.

Among items discussed were latest advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and their applications to health, security, entertainment, traffic and other fields in order to enhance the whole Hajj experience for worshippers.

The minister was accompanied at the forum by head of the Presidency of State Security Abdul Aziz bin Mohammed Al-Howairini, Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Mohammed Saleh bin Taher Benten and president of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sudais.

Prince Abdul Aziz also toured an exhibition held on the sidelines of the event.   

The forum was organized by the Ministry of Interior’s general department of medical services in collaboration with the ministries responsible for public and state security, Hajj, and health, the National Center for Security Operations (911), the General Directorate of Passports, the National Health Information Center, the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, Umm Al-Qura University, the Saudi Red Crescent Authority and the Holy Makkah Municipality.

“Despite the fact that Makkah will have received some 1.2 million Hajj pilgrims by the first day of the Dhu Al-Hijjah, the daily life of the 1.6 million residents of the holy city went smoothly and unaffectedly,” Benten said in his speech to delegates.

“Today, we have more than 1.5 million pilgrims in Makkah and around 300,000 others in Madinah. Even so, the city has not been disordered and residents have not noticed the big number of visitors that have entered the city.

“Everything is going smoothly, thanks to the efforts being exerted by the Saudi government to make the pilgrims perform their rituals in ease and comfort,” added Benten.

The minister noted that all Hajj visas had been issued electronically, meaning most pilgrims had not needed to visit the Saudi Embassy.

He said his ministry had details on 60 million Muslims who had earlier performed Hajj. “We use this information to better help them through knowing what places they would like to visit and what their desires are. We now have a good data infrastructure which can help us greatly to introduce even better services to pilgrims in the future.”

And the Hajj experience has been hailed by pilgrims. Feedback from last year’s visitors showed 86 percent to be satisfied with the services provided to them, said Benten, who also spoke about some of the latest technologies being used.

“All pilgrim buses are equipped with tracking devices, so we know who the driver is and how much time is needed to transport pilgrims from one point to another. We also know when a bus has stopped due to a technical problem.”

Technology had also helped to monitor accommodation units. “And we have information about all the companies that provide pilgrims with meals and who the workers in those companies are.”

Benten pointed out that plans were in the pipeline to recycle pilgrims’ waste, especially plastics, into useful materials, and develop archeological sites in Makkah and Madinah to improve the Hajj experience.  

Assistant professor of AI at Umm Al-Qura University, Tahani Al-Subait, told Arab News that based on the data gathered to date new smart apps were being developed to serve pilgrims.

“We can create applications in all fields, like health, security, entertainment, traffic, movement of people, etc. AI can be utilized in everything you can imagine. I can’t imagine there is a field where AI cannot be used,” she said.

One technology being operated by the Ministry of Health during this season’s Hajj was a robot that could remotely provide medical consultations and checks.

“A physician in Riyadh, for instance, can provide medical assistance through a robot in the holy sites. The physician can monitor the robot and make it take the patient’s temperature and check their pulse with a stethoscope. The doctor can also give the robot an order to find a specific patient at a specific ward in a hospital in order to examine them,” Al-Subait added.


SHRC calls for law against underage marriages

Updated 56 min 20 sec ago

SHRC calls for law against underage marriages

  • SHRC said it has studied the matter with a number of concerned agencies
  • SHRC said enacting such a law would protect children and maintain their rights

JEDDAH: The Saudi Human Rights Commission (SHRC), the Kingdom’s official human rights institution, has recommended the immediate issuing of a law to ban marriages to people under the age of 18.

It has also warned guardians that preventing daughters aged over 18 from getting married is a crime for which they will be held accountable.

The SHRC said it has studied the matter with a number of concerned agencies, and there are many negative effects of getting married under the age of 18.

It also noted that the Child Protection Law holds parents and caregivers accountable for children’s upbringing and protecting them from abuse.

Human rights activist Dr. Matouq Al-Sharif said the SHRC, in its statement, is drawing attention to practices by guardians that are contrary to international conventions, in particular the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by the Kingdom via the commission.

“Based on the Paris Principles, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993, the SHRC was granted the right to provide the (Saudi) government with advisory opinions, recommendations, proposals and reports,” Al-Sharif told Arab News.

He added that the SHRC is responsible for ensuring that national legislation, regulations and practices harmonize with the international human rights conventions that the Kingdom has signed.

“One of the tasks of this institution is to follow up on the implementation of such formal pacts, and make sure it is effective,” Al-Sharif said.

“From some people’s point of view, Islam gives a guardian the right to wed his daughter. They claim that the Prophet Mohammed married Aisha when she was still 9 or 11, according to some narratives,” Al-Sharif said.

“However, authentic senior Muslim scholars have denied that and said the prophet asked for her hand when she was at that age. They confirm that the wedding was when Aisha was no longer a child.”

The human rights activist noted that the SHRC’s statement is a message to the relevant authorities to enact a law that rejects ideas that are contrary to Islam.

Al-Sharif said that the commission has long sought to change the belief that under-age marriages are permissible.

“It has even interfered to stop a number of marriages to minors in different parts of the country. Moreover, it has issued a medical study in cooperation with the Health Ministry. The study highlighted the health risks to minors of such marriages,” he said.

According to Al-Sharif, the SHRC received a letter from the ministry stating that it had conducted a study on the issue and found serious health risks associated with such marriages.

“The Health Ministry … listed a number of health risks, including osteoporosis … due to lack of calcium, anaemia, abortions, acute high blood pressure that may lead to kidney failure, pelvis and spinal deformities, and many other risks,” he said.

In a statement posted on its Twitter account, the SHRC said enacting such a law would protect children and maintain their rights.

The statement added that many studies have proven that underage marriages have negative physical and psychological effects. It said local and international laws consider people under the age of 18 as children.

The SHRC also issued a statement describing families preventing their adult daughters from marrying as a clear violation of human rights.

The SHRC stressed that Saudi law criminalizes such actions, and that the appropriate authorities would deal with any reported cases. It added that under Shariah law, any woman experiencing such treatment could file a lawsuit.

It has called on relevant authorities to help raise awareness among women about their rights, and to highlight the penalties for those who violate the law.